Practical tips and considerations for improving your game’s visuals
One of the things we get asked about a lot when showcasing Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure, is the look and visual style. Particularly earlier in the development, people were sometimes surprised when learning that Stikbold! was made with Unity.
In this article, Game Swing’s artist @larsss will share a few quick tips on how to personalize the look of your game to make it stand out among the flood of games out there, while matching the workload to the team size.
Color control in light
Lighting is one of the most vital components when creating mood and atmosphere in games. If you aren’t pursuing realism, Unity's default shaders have a rather dull gradient falloff from light sources. If you’re working with a static light, consider hand painting most of your shadows so you have more control over both the color and placement of the gradient falloff. I recommend reading “Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter” by James Gurney to learn about the fundamentals. Afterwards you can start to experiment and modify to your choice of style.
Above is an illustration of how much difference adding a midtone to the falloff can do.
Improve the physicality and impact of your particle systems
We use particle systems for a lot of things in Stikbold!, they are a great way to add motion and excitement at a cheap cost. Experiment with particle systems using meshes instead of billboards, and use shaders other than the standard additive or multiply particle shaders. This can give your visual effects more character and add great physicality to smoke, explosions, sausages etc…
Also, since good particle systems can be complex and difficult to make, consider buying visual effects from the Asset Store to study how they handle motion, and to learn about the possibilities of the particle system rather than starting from scratch. Nintendo are masters of particle systems, check out the newer Mario games for an abundance of smoke effects.
Make a "holistic" game world
Proper scoping is one of the most important lessons in game development. Be careful with adding too much detail to models and textures in the beginning of the project, as you will then have to add a similar amount of detail to the rest of the world, otherwise your models will seem out of place. It’s a common mistake to start out with your main character and add too much detail, and now your project quickly spirals out of scope. Don’t be afraid to go back and change your models later in the process, if they start looking out of place. Rather start simple and be pleasantly surprised later. A good approach is to pretend the game needs to run on a phone or micro console, as this will help you cut to the bone, which coincidentally is what happened to Stikbold!.
Being an artist in a small studio is often about achieving more with less. Choosing a simple or minimalist art style is not about being fancy/artsy/retro/whatever but about working within limitations while still making something that stands out.